Monday 23 March 2015

Whenever I want something ticklish, plotless, full of words I don't know and situations I've yet to experience, I read Guy Davenport. In his stories, his multiple sunlit stories/essays/poems, you could be living in a jar with a dead bee, attending the birth of photography in Toledo, driving down the boulevard Raspail with Gertrude Stein, walking on a mountainside with Robert Walser, riding Da Vinci's bike through the twentieth century, bathing in all Guy Davenport has read. And he has read vastly. Giddily. Making connections and abruptly severing them with the intelligence and imagination of the twelve-year-old boy he'd like to be, climbing trees, nudging and nipping. He disports himself in his knowledge, apricates in his reading.

As, in their turn, do his readers. Read a few pages and then pause. Especially outdoors. Read a paragraph and stop. I like reading words I don't know, or might have known once but have forgotten, and enjoy guessing, or just reading for the sound and the rhythm. I like not knowing where I am in what I read. That makes me an odd reader but I like that too.

In my various volumes of Guy Davenport's writing, I found only one pencil mark in the margin, a circle, indicating particular pleasure, in the Walser story A Field of Snow on a Slope of the Rosenberg:
… if you stare through a window into a snowfall the room will rise and snow stand still …
I think I may have used that in a story. And the title of his essay collection Every Force Evolves a Form has entered the vernacular in this house, a great encouragement when the force is with you but the form has not yet arrived.

I interviewed Guy Davenport by correspondence for a book on teaching literature. He taught as if that were the only thing he did, he said. Which in a way it was. And he wrote as if writing were the only thing he did. As if all he'd read were continually present in his head. He found my Irish address improbable and insufficient. Which it is.

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